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Winter Term Begins

1/4/2013

When students returned to classes this morning, only some of them were in actual classrooms. Some met garages, gathered around the shell of a boat, or an old run-down MG that needs work. Some gathered out by Lake Cochichewick, armed with binoculars and notebooks. Still others are venturing to the basement of the Luce Library, digging around in the school’s wealth of archival materials.

Today marks the first day of Winter Term 2013, where students and their teachers will embark on an intense, three-week study of one particular topic.

One of the main goals of Winter Term, now in its second year at Brooks, is to be in a more collaborative, project-based setting for learning, according to Associate Head for Academic Affairs Lance Latham.

“Our students and our faculty are really investing deeply in one area,” he said.

Winter Term’s main goal is to practice “depth over breadth,” something that supports the school’s mission of providing the most meaningful educational experiences Brooks students will have in their lives. The regular harried structure of a typical Brooks day is changed dramatically during Winter Term. Some class meet at night, some during the day, and sports practices are moved to accommodate a greater freedom in the academic schedule. It’s a bit of what students will experience when they get to college.

“Part of this, for students, is working on becoming an adult learner,” said Latham. “We’re raising the level of expectations for their responsibility” when it comes to homework, out-of-class assignments and finding a school-life balance.

Topics of study include some repeat performances that were successful during the school’s first Winter Term: the Vietnam War and Irish Culture and Heritage (both of which include a travel component) are two returning classes. New classes being offered include Stand Up and Learn and The Power of Positive Thinking. To see the full catalog, click here.

All courses come after weeks of planning on the part of faculty to really refine the school’s inaugural Winter Term and build on its success.

“Winter Term is an excellent change of pace at the right time,” said Latham. “We as faculty are assessing kids in a different way than we do during the rest of the school year. Our work becomes more interdisciplinary, we’re team teaching. For faculty, it’s a time to get at all the things we dreamed about in our teaching but might never have the opportunity to do in the course of a regular semester.”

Many students’ courses involve being away from campus — Brooks Goes to Elementary School, for example, has students heading to the YMCA in Lawrence to work in the early education program with youngsters. Pressing Pause takes trips to a mix of places — a coffee shop in Boston, the beach to watch a winter storm, to a hospital lobby.

“We want this class to be a marked departure from the ‘scheduled-to-the-minute’ existence many of us lead in our regular lives,” said Director of Environmental Stewardship Brian Palm, who is teaching the course with fellow science teacher Becca Smith ’05. Through journaling about their experiences, students will create a compilation of written work, some of which they may submit to online and print publications.

For music teacher Claudia Keller, Winter Term is a place where she can share her passion for jazz music and history.

“I’m an American music history nut,” admits Keller. “I really like to see the correlation between music, society, politics — even the cross-effects between music and transportation and invention and war. It’s all fascinating to me and I think it will be fascinating to help the students see those connections, too.”

She said the best part, and sometimes the challenging part, of Winter Term is making sure students are invested.

“It’s experience-oriented and not grade-oriented,” Keller notes. “It’s all about personal development in the subject… and getting kids to rise to the occasion.”

Helping in that area is the fact that students got to choose their own Winter Term course, ranking their top choices from the 33 courses being listed.

“There’s a level of excitement here in January that is not at other places,” Latham said. “We’ve done away with the challenge of time that we face during the rest of the regular school year, and so during Winter Term we get to have some great opportunities.”

Math teacher Dusty Richard is excited to bring his Car Wars class back for a second year. He’s burned DVDs of one of his favorite books on car repair from the 1960s for each of his eight kids in the class, which he is co-teaching with Paul Gallo, who is in charge of the school’s fleet of vehicles.

“This kind of time to spend with kids on one thing” is totally different than regular teaching, Richard said. “The only time we get like that in our regular structure is through a sport or afternoon activity, but not in terms of academics.”

Richard and Gallo checked out an old 1974 MG for the class — students will take it apart, make repairs, put it back together, paint it and try to get it to run well. They’ll be in the shop most of the day working on it, but will also meet at night for some study time.

Richard said if he weren’t teaching Car Wars, he’d be interested in doing something on World War II and the rise of fascism. But for now, Car Wars is just too fun.

“This car thing is pretty exciting,” he said. “This gives kids the change to concentrate on something, one thing. And at the end, we’ll try to sell the car and make some of our money back.”

What’s New?
Already refining and improving Winter Term, faculty and administrators have made some changes since the 2012 Winter Term experiences:

What’re you working on?
Latham and others agreed that there was a need for more sharing between classes. Some folks were doing some pretty cool stuff, either with their final projects, or throughout the three weeks. So this year, there will be a culminating event, almost like a science fair, that will feature student’s Winter Term work. For those classes whose work is based on performance — like the Stand Up and Learn class or Making the Brooks Band, there will be a revue/variety show to highlight their work.

Speakers and Such
There were also classes that hosted outside speakers and performers that might have appealed to the broader Brooks community. Latham says faculty will be sharing those details with the school community more often this time around, reserving Thursday nights as a time when speakers might be visiting campus.

Community Time
One thing Latham and others wanted to see was more community time during Winter Term. Last year, there was a great focus on classes bonding together in their own activities, but not as much time for school-wide events. So, School Meetings — usually held Fridays during third period and attended by the entire school — will continue this Winter Term, but they’ll be held Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m. Other ‘protected’ community time will be held Friday evenings.

Paying Attention to Details
Latham paired students with their top choices, with only about 10 percent of the student body having to be placed in a class that wasn’t in their choices. Class size was a detail he paid attention to, especially for classes that were part of the 2012 Winter Term that have enjoyed popularity. Car Wars with Dusty Richard and Paul Gallo, for example, was pared down from 12 students last year to eight students this year. “Having a smaller group means the experience for each student will be better. Now nobody will be watching someone do something, they’ll all actively be doing it,” said Richard.

Want to learn more?
To read more about Winter Term, click here.